Read or listen to enough stories related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s hard not to notice the number of words normally associated with the nation’s armed forces that find their way into the narrative.
Health care workers are on the “front lines.” Nurses are working “in the trenches.” Strategies are being implemented with “military precision.” Emergency annexes to hospitals are erected like “military field hospitals.” The nation is “at war with an unseen enemy.”
When talking about the heroic efforts being taken to contain the novel coronavirus, it is somehow very fitting to appropriate the military lexicon. To describe heroic deeds, we need words associated with the nation’s greatest of heroes, the men and women of the armed forces who time and again have proven willing to sacrifice their lives in the name of their country.
The Times editorial board
- Norman Baggs, general manager
- Shannon Casas, editor in chief
- Cheryl Brown
- David George
- Brent Hoffman
- J.C. Smith
- Tom Vivelo
- Mandy Harris
In the midst of an international health crisis, we find ourselves pausing this weekend to honor and recognize those who have given their lives for “the American way” while in service to their country.
The annual Memorial Day recognition is meant to be a reminder of the cost for freedom, a pause in typically busy routines not to celebrate with rowdy exuberance but to memorialize with heartfelt thanks the debt owed by the nation to its fallen military personnel.
That Memorial Day this year comes as we are beginning to slowly emerge from weeks of self-imposed personal restrictions meant to limit exposure to a health hazard helps to put into perspective the vast sacrifices we expect of those who wear the uniforms of the nation’s military.
The angst we feel from being isolated for weeks in the safety of our homes pales in comparison to the battlefield pressures of being under enemy fire for months and years. The stress of job loss is mild in relation to the suffering of those forced to watch friends die in battle. The temporary sacrifices of certain freedoms is of little consequence to those families who have been called upon to stand at graveside in military cemeteries while the playing of “Taps” echoes around them.
Certainly the coronavirus is a brutal enemy, and we have become accustomed to the climbing daily death count that almost certainly will eclipse 100,000 within the next month or so. But the possibility of death has long been a given for those willing to serve in the nation’s military; more than 400,000 American soldiers died in World War II, nearly 500,000 between the two factions of the Civil War, more than 116,000 in World War I.
There is perhaps no single visual reminder of our obligation to those who willingly gave their lives for an ideal more powerful than the landscaped beauty of Arlington National Cemetery, where row upon row of simple white markers represent those who once wore the uniform. Certainly not all of the 400,000 buried there died in battle, but all were willing to do so if called upon.
The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 142 national cemeteries around the country as a final resting place for those who serve and members of their families.
It is fitting that Memorial Day falls amid the high school graduation season. It is gratifying that despite the inherent dangers associated with modern warfare and the mental, emotional and physical demands expected of those who serve, there are still young men and women who are willing, often anxious, to enlist and serve their country as the next phase of life after high school. That they choose to do so voluntarily, rather than as the result of being conscripted into the service, is a tribute to their character and nobility.
On Veterans Day in November the nation recognizes all of those who serve, but Memorial Day is reserved for more somber thoughts in recognition of those who gave their lives for ideals in which they believed so strongly as to be willing to die to uphold. It is impossible to overstate the obligation we have to preserve their memory and the way of life for which they died.
Gen. George S. Patton is reported to have said: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.”
Think about those words as you fire up the grill this weekend, or perhaps emerge from coronavirus isolation for a first taste of travel away from home. Think of all the fallen soldiers, and the families they left behind to mourn them.
Let us then acknowledge the deaths of those men and women who gave their lives on behalf of our nation, and give thanks that they were willing to do so, for we would not enjoy the lifestyles we have without them.